We're a resourceful people who can stand up to bullying from Buenos Aires.
By Dr Barry Elsby
This month, representatives from the Falkland Islands government joined some 100 delegates from 22 overseas countries and territories (OCT) including Anguilla, Curacao, Greenland and St. Pierre Miquelon to present a joint position on trade issues and regional integration. The OCTs share a number of mutual interests with the Falkland Islands and the discussions at the 10th OCT-EU Forum reinforced the rights of our citizens to a voice in the European policymaking process.
For Falkland Islanders, the right to have our voice heard has never been more important than now.
This year marks the 30th anniversary of the Falklands conflict and our islands have found themselves once again the focus of renewed global interest, partly due to the developing oil exploration industry in and around our waters.
With the eyes of the world turning to the South Atlantic, one unified message which continues to be sent from the heart of the Falklands - a sentiment reiterated by David Cameron in his recent response to Argentine sabre rattling - is the islanders' right to self-determination. The people of the Falkland Islands are a British Overseas Territory by choice. They wish to be British and have a democratic right to remain British. This value is protected and promoted by democratic powers the world over; the Falkland Islands are no different. It is also our constitutional right and a fundamental freedom enshrined in the UN charter.
The Falklands place no strain on the British economy. Whilst the UK contributes to the cost of defence of the islands, this is no more than 0.5% of the total defence budget. The Falklands also provides a unique training ground for British military forces, and the Falklands government contributes around three per cent of its GDP towards defence costs. In each and every other capacity, the Islands are financially completely self-sufficient.
The Falkland Islands' economy is a diverse and prosperous one. It is home to a thriving young community, one of the world's best managed fisheries - with the sale of quotas generating approximately 60% of the islands' revenues - and an ever developing tourism sector which sees some 60,000 visitors to our islands each year. Islanders are upbeat about their future.
Regretfully, the increased global interest in recent months has also been matched by increasingly aggressive actions from Argentina in the form of economic sanctions and trade blockades. While the islanders have grown well accustomed to political rhetoric from Buenos Aires, actions from across the water in recent months have seen everyday life for the people that live in the islands made that bit harder. However, islanders the world over – and we are no different – are resilient and will meet and overcome these challenges.
The Argentine-led moves by Mercosur members to close their ports to Falkland flagged vessels is just one example of the continual litany of bullying tactics deployed by Argentina with the aim of economically strangling and politically isolating the Islands. But Falkland islanders are resourceful people and will not be defeated by political and economic bullying. The people of the islands remain resolute in their desire to not only determine their own future, but to trade with South America and seek normal relations with Argentina and all other Latin American countries for mutual, practical benefit.
With the 30th Anniversary fast approaching, the people of the Falklands are focusing on looking forward to a positive and prosperous future and ensuring that their voices are heard. If ever there was a more important time to listen to our messages, the time is now.
Hon. Dr Barry Elsby is a Member of the Falklands Legislative Assembly.
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